Cash Usability 15 Sep 2005

57 comments Latest by Thomas

Australian Bank Notes

I’m currently organizing my first trip to the US this October, and it suddenly occurred to me — I’m going to have to swap all my pretty colored Australian currency (each denomination is a different color) for America’s “you can have it any color, as long as it’s green” notes.

The thing I really like about the Australian notes is that I can easily figure out how much cash I’ve got with a really quick glance into my wallet — right now I have one yellow, two red, a blue and two of those pink/purple ones. The colors are instantly recognizable, long before I’ve read the numbers or recognized the face of Banjo Paterson.

I have a feeling I’ll be peering into my wallet a lot more in October as I try to find the right note and figure out if I’m broke or rolling in it.

The Australian notes also have a bunch of security features like the see-through window and raised printing which give them a very distinct look and feel. Is there any talk of the US notes getting an overhaul? Who would you love to see design them?

57 comments so far (Jump to latest)

David G 15 Sep 05


Didn’t the US try to release a colored note of some sort a while back, but for some reason pulled it?

At least they haven’t converted to $2 coins (like up here in Canada). I hate change. :P

Matt 15 Sep 05

We have been overhauling all our cash for the last five or so years. It does remain in the same color, but the numbers and distinctive pictures for each note are much bigger now. The notes do have many security features. They did evaluate the security that is used across the globe and I am fairly confident that the security features they implemented are sufficient.

My wife makes it really easy on me by not giving me any cash in my wallet.

Matt 15 Sep 05

One other thing: I think the feedback most Americans gave on colored money was “monopoly” (from Milton Bradley). The Treasury Department wanted to keep the tradition and confidence in the US Currency.

MSF 15 Sep 05

It’s usually not paper currency that I use the most when in Europe, it’s “change”.

I ended up getting a new wallet in Germany years ago that had a change purse built in just to keep things together. Pretty much all men’s wallets in the US that I have seen include no provision for change.

Ryan 15 Sep 05

I didn’t know we still use cash in the US.

Greig Harper 15 Sep 05

Coins are becoming higher in value here in the UK, the highest being the £2 (~$3.5). There’s commemorative £5 (~$9) and I can see them being standard soon.

Despite being heavy it’s easier to use them in machines rather than an old crumpled note.

Having said that the use of cash is becoming less and less common here.

Brad 15 Sep 05

The other thing about US currency is that it’s all the same size. A $100 bill is the same size as a $5 bill. What do you do if you’re blind? At least most European countries figured this out long ago and made currency different sizes…I’m too lazy to go dig up my stash of Euros to see if that’s still true, but I think it is….now that’s usability.

Brad 15 Sep 05

The other thing about US currency is that it’s all the same size. A $100 bill is the same size as a $5 bill. What do you do if you’re blind? At least most European countries figured this out long ago and made currency different sizes…I’m too lazy to go dig up my stash of Euros to see if that’s still true, but I think it is….now that’s usability.

Dana O 15 Sep 05

Ryan is right — I don’t see too many people using cash anymore.

I think that the US is starting to use credit/debit cards for most everything. A few years ago only larger store chains and restaurants accepted credit (and some debit). Now pretty much everything I do can be paid with a credit/debit card — except the Secretary of State in Michigan.

You know it’s entered into pop culture when fast food restaurants start picking up on it. I can go to Taco Bell now and pay for a 69Ę taco with my credit card! Awesome. :)

Marty Neumeier writes breifly about this in The Brand Gap.
It’s a really good book.

Patrick 15 Sep 05

I’m with Ryan. In fact, I think the only time I ever have cash is when I go take some out for poker night with my friends.

Chris S 15 Sep 05

I definitely see the value in color variations that aren’t as “strong” as monopoly money but still help in differentiation among bills. And from an “accessibility” (?) point of view, I see the wisdom in differently-sized paper currency to help out blind people.

However, I like all my currency the same size…fits more neatly into my wallet and also for rolling or folding my bills for pocket carry. Also, I can wrap the big bills in $1 dollar notes on the outside, to hide em (paranoia) ;-)

And…big brightly colored hundreds seem to me like they’d be a billboard to pickpockets and theives.

Maybe keeping them the same size, adjusting the colors somewhat, and adding some raised lettering, braille, or somesuch tactile identification method is the way to go???

Dan Boland 15 Sep 05

Justin, the denominations are in all four corners, so you can just flip through the bills that way.

I didnít know we still use cash in the US.

No no no, you’re thinking of checks. ;)

I think the feedback most Americans gave on colored money was ďmonopolyĒ (from Milton Bradley).

That’s always my first thought whenever I hear talk of introducing multiple colors to US paper currency. Who knew a board game (albeit a classic) could have the power to dictate monetary policy?

A $100 bill is the same size as a $5 bill. What do you do if youíre blind?

A lot of blind folks fold them (or have them folded for them) in different ways to differentiate denominations, though I don’t see why they can’t just emboss braille over the corner numbers.

Brady 15 Sep 05

Is there any talk of the US notes getting an overhaul?

Yeah, we’re consolidating representations of each bill into one plastic card. It is great!

Alan McCann 15 Sep 05

One thing that has been ignored in usability discussions is that colors have meaning and emotional impact. The relationships between certain colors and certain emotions has been with us through history and most recently documented in many studies (e.g. what colors NOT to use in a jail - e.g. red).

The color green is prevalent in nature and as such is associated with life and growth.

The color of US money is green for a reason (as is much of the other symbolism on the dollar bill, for example).

Green is also used at stoplights as the “go” light whereas red is stop.

Symbolism has power and is a forgotten art by most designers today.

Recommendation: Consider the symbolism of the colors and icons on your site to enhance usability.

As to money used elsewhere in the world, the poverty of the symbolic thinking behind them is stunning.

Bob 15 Sep 05

Pretty much all menís wallets in the US that I have seen include no provision for change.

That’s what pockets are for. ;-)

brian 15 Sep 05

I think U.S. currency is totally boring. Despite that, I’ve swtiched to cash for everything for which I can reasonably use it. There’s a certain feeling you get when you pay for all your groceries in cash. It makes me more wise when I choose how to spend it. I look in my pocket and decide - if I buy this coffee I dont have that couple bucks anymore. I heard some statistic that people using a credit card at a cafe spend 18% more than those using cash.

Everytime I go to europe, or anywhere non-U.S.) i get currency envy. It’s beautiful (have you ever seen the 200 swiss franc bill?). It makes sense having different sizes. And I love the coins. I’d much rather have a few $1 and $5 coins in my pocket than paper.

The coins are far more durable too, they last longer and, thusly, are more cost-efficient.

My suggestion: the US should stop making the penny (just round up or down), and ban the $1 bill. Switch to the $1 coin, and get a $5 coin too.

T 15 Sep 05

While I love the Australian plastic “monopoly” notes (I’m a sucker for bright colours and lights), I have to say I find the coins very strange.. What’s up with the $1 coin being twice the size of the tiny $2 coin? And then there’s the gigantic, decagonal 50 cent coin.. I guess it’s easy to recognise them as long as you know their denominations, but in most countries larger coins are worth more than smaller coins..

Simon 15 Sep 05

When the government first introduced the new bank notes in Australia, every argument against the notes trotted out in this blog were used plus a few more including notes getting stuck together and elderly having diffculty handling them.

The Aussie notes have proved to be a hit and I have yet to come across any of the arguments panning out. The notes have proved particularly useable. They work in machines, the wash well, they don’t get stuck together and they are easy to identify by colour, texture and size. All in all very good.

I’ve used the Aussie, the Greenback, Pounds, Euros and various asian and Latin American currencies and by far my favourite is the Aussie. And not just because I am one but I have consistenly found them easier to use and find myself wishing other countries would follow suit.

I like the Greenback least of currencies in terms of useability.

To say there is a poverty of thinking behind the symbolism on other money is…stunningly indefensible. How can you be sure that the symbolism on the money does not match the culture that it comes from? It may not mean anything to an American but I’m sure it means a lot to the culture. Take for example the Aussie. The colours are the colours of Australia. The figures and symbols come from our land and history. For us the Aussie is a hugh package of symbols.

On a side note: Colour and psychological response is highly cultural. For example, in Western society white is for weddings but for the Chinese it is death.

Matt 15 Sep 05

The new US currency has raised numbers which may or may not be used by the blind. I am not sure since I am not blind.

Alex Aguilar 15 Sep 05

I was in Europe in August and I liked the different colors
but I wasn’t too keen on different sizes.

I definitely agree that the greenback needs an overhaul regarding colors to make it easier to differentiate a the bills. A friend runs a small retail sporting goods shop and the other day he was kicking himself. There had been a rush of customers on Sat. morning and he was handling the register and accidently gave someone a $100 in change instead of a $10. He didn’t realize until end of the day when he was zeroing out the register.

August 15 Sep 05

I donít see why they canít just emboss braille over the corner numbers.

We do that here in Canada with the new bills.

It’s also a myth that US currency is green… examine a bill closely and you will find that the dominant colour is actually black. The paper/cloth that US currency is printed on also gets considerably dirtier in a short period of time than do the other currencies I’ve used (Dutch, Swiss, Egyptian, Canadian).

I saw a documentary a few years ago that stated that US currency was almost the easiest currency in the world to counterfeit, simply because they refused to do anything with colour blending and so on, and that ten percent or more of all US currency in circulation is fake.

As for the coins, well, I hate them. Sure, they are more durable and probably cheaper to produce, but I don’t like carrying ten pounds of metal around with me when I go to buy groceries (speaking as a Canadian with those stupid one and two dollar coins). It’s one of the reasons I used debit/credit for almost everything (service charges generally have me paying an extra ten or fifteen dollars a month because I don’t carry cash, though).

TheMatt 15 Sep 05

Just a quick word to those who would like the US to change to different-sized bills, I imagine there would be a bit of an outcry from the retail sector.

Who exactly will pay to overhaul every single cash register (notice how all the slots for money are the same width), every vending-copy-bill accepting maching, &c. Heck, I still remember all the noise from the changeover to the old, new-style 10s 20s and 100s. ATMs didn’t work well, every self-check out had to be serviced. Luckily, the color upgrades for the 20-50 and the 10 (Sept. 28) don’t seem to be causing as many problems.

Although, I guess the cash register lobby would love it. You’d have to replace the entire cash register unless the combined width of the bills was constant (i.e., reduce the $1 bill the same amount you enlarge the $20).

David 15 Sep 05

I’d love some decent looking money. Our greenbacks look absolutely awful.

Just so long as we keep them the same size…

kirkaracha 15 Sep 05

I used to work for the company that makes the inks in US currency. The front of US bills is Currency Aqua Black; the back is Currency Aqua Green.

Lisa 15 Sep 05

I love the colorful Aus. currency, but what I found most interesting about the Aus. currency is the rounding up on the penny.

Alexandre Simard 15 Sep 05

I donít like carrying ten pounds of metal around with me when I go to buy groceries (speaking as a Canadian with those stupid one and two dollar coins)

Counterpoint (from a fellow Canadian): you can get a lap dance for a handful of change.

Nick 15 Sep 05

I carry a British £10 note in my wallet, here in the US, primarily to ward off creationists.

The biggest design overhaul needed in the States, though, is to get rid of the useless penny and the stupid bloody dollar bill forever. No developed nation (at least, to my knowledge) has such low-denomination paper money. As to the complaint about ‘pocketsful of metal’; I’ve found that in practice, it doesn’t happen that much.

Losing the penny and gaining a dollar coin would make coinage useful for small-value purchases and locations like vending machines or the laundromat. It also has some good affordances: that’s to say, it’d be much more pleasant to find $9 of change in your pockets, than to open a bulging wallet and find it contained $9 in singles.

Chris S 15 Sep 05

“Counterpoint (from a fellow Canadian): you can get a lap dance for a handful of change”

Yeah, but where do you put it? I mean, bills can be folded and … nevermind ;-)

Piers 15 Sep 05

TheMatt: You have to change the currency now and then, to keep ahead of counterfeiters (by adding watermarks, metallic weave, other security features like the plastic window on Australian notes). If you don’t mind criminals running your economy, then sure, stick with the same notes. If you want to stop your currency being devalued, you have to change the notes, and unfortunately that means changing the machines that take the notes.

I think Australian currency is fantastic, you can keep it in your pocket when you go swimming! Very convenient at the beach. And although each note has a different colour scheme, when you actually hold them, you’ll see that they are printed with many different colours. So they don’t look like Monopoly money at all, up close.

Having all your notes the same colour and size just seems retarded to me.

As for ‘rounding up on the penny’, a ‘penny’ isn’t rounded up, any amount is rounded to the nearest five cents. 1c and 2c coins were discontinued quite a while ago. They were actually more expensive to make than their face value.

Jeremy Jarvis 15 Sep 05

Who would you love to see design them?


Dan Boland 15 Sep 05

Every time I hear someone say something like “we should get rid of the one dollar bill” I laugh to myself, because apparently no one remembers the ill-received Sacagawea dollar. I also don’t buy the argument that we should get rid of the penny either. Just because one by itself is worthless, I can’t think of a single transaction or tax that doesn’t involve the penny to at least a sizable minority of its instances.

Andy 15 Sep 05

MSF: try Buxton brand wallets. I’ve been using the same style wallet (leather bifold with cards on one side, coin purse on other, zips shut) for over a decade now.

Usually can find them in department stores or leather goods outlets.

sb 15 Sep 05

i thought the sacagawea dollar was great. unfortunately, there wasn’t effective infrastructure in vending to accept them. i never ran across a gold dollar washing machine, for example. some soda machines took them and i think the CTA had a machine that took them. i liked them because they were gold, they were big, and when you had one in your pocket it felt like a dollar. i was really excited about them for awhile, but it was too much of a pain to go to the bank to get them. i never once received one as part of my change.

dusoft 15 Sep 05

I think it would help some foreign notes and COINS to get some design change, but it’s always necessary to learn foreign currency while there.

So there is no point trying to be smart pointing at colourful notes… Well, there are some things you can’t change. I think you are too much influenced by website usability, otherwise it seems to me it’s nonsense to talk about usability of notes (!?). Well, get used to it or just accept it. Or come to Europe and use same Euro notes in most of the countries. Sometimes it’s too dull.

pixelenator 15 Sep 05

Talking about money and colors, the other day i was thinking what if your debit card changes color, you set up different colors for different balances, and it will turn that color once your account has reaches that specific balance.
wouldn’t be great :)

cj 15 Sep 05

I didn’t like the $2 coins in Australia. Went there in the late 80’s and started throwing them in fountains (making a wish or whatever)…I thought they were pennies.

edward 15 Sep 05

Think of all the money we’d save if everyone in America used credit instead of cash. No chance of dollar bills being “recycled” after they were too worn. No complicated parking meters or searching for change to ride the bus. No more “well, I’m out of cash” moments at the convenience store.

All I need to do is to figure out how to implant my AmEx Blue RFID chip in my palm, and I’m set for the next century as far as purchasing is concerned…

Joseph Lindsay 15 Sep 05

It gets confusing for NZers visiting Aus: $10 is the only one that’s the similar colour for the amount. Last time I was there I kept handing over $50 for $5 items (NZ$5 is orange) and buying drinks with AU$100 (NZ$20 is green)

Swati 15 Sep 05

Though not so simple, I believe that the feel of the different dollar notes is different.

Adam C 15 Sep 05

While currency isn’t going anywhere, it would be such a large investment to make these changes when many, many purchases are being done electronically. Also, while it’s still worthy, these are the same conversations that pop up every few years. About size, I found it interesting that when I went to europe the euro bills fit rather nicely in my wallet. While I hate pocket change I found that I didn’t mine carrying around the 1 and 2 euro coins.

The changes that have to be made, for security reasons, have already been done on the new $20 and higher bills. And the $5 and $10 have already been redesigned with the larger lettering, to help you flip thru your bills easily. If I’m not mistaken, the problem with redesigning the $1 is that there is so many of them out there. As for the blind, they simply remember how many bills and they put business cards in as seperators or they fold them certain ways. When they goto a cashier, they ask to get each set of bills handed to them individually.

I don’t think many people would want to trade in their $1 bills for $1 coins. It’d be annoying. As for pennies, go through your credit card bill or your receipt and round up all the transactions. It probably comes out to a few dollars. Now imagine a corporation doing that. Wouldn’t we lose a good amount of money?

Sara White 15 Sep 05

In Canada our currency is different colours, and it makes it a LOT easier to grab the right bill from a bulging wallet. And the design of the toonie (two dollar coin) actually makes it possible to differentiate it from the loonie just by feeling along the edges. It’s quite handy.

Jack 15 Sep 05

I love the Australian Monopoly money. I can pay for things without even having to look at which note I’m pulling out of my wallet.

That, and a fistful of green has so much more presence in Australia. Mmm yes.

eric scheid 15 Sep 05

In Australia, the rounding up thing is actually only applied to cash transactions, and it also requires rounding down for amounts ending with 1,2,6,7. Theoretically, it all balances out.

It doesn’t apply to non-cash transactions: if your bill is $23.98 and you pay by chq, credit, or debit; then you pay $23.98

Brett 15 Sep 05

I love our Aussie Peso, just trying to remember the colloquial terms for each of them. I know the $20 (Orange) is “Lobster”.

In school we used to glue two 5c pieces together and paint them with gold paint. They were virtually the same size as a $2 coin, always fooled the canteen lady :).

Matt Pelletier 16 Sep 05

A friend of mine (who grew up in Hong Kong) said that, despite the shortcomings (most already discussed above), American $ is the only printed currency that ‘feels’ like money.

Amber 16 Sep 05

I fully agree with you. I had exprienced a very similar feeling while I was vacationing a few days ago. Keep up the good work mate. Very well written article

Robert Gremillion 16 Sep 05

Over the summer I visited the Harah’s Casino while in New Orleans. They converted all of their machines to accept paper currency and tickets ONLY. The machines STILL have coin trays and STILL make noice as if quarters are dropping out. It just isn’t the same.

I wonder if the demand for U.S. coins will diminish due to these changes.

brian 16 Sep 05

France (pre-Euro) had banned the 1 centime coin, and while we were there, they always rounded down to the nearest 5 for us.

August: I doubt you’ll be carrying ten pounds of metal with you. You could have $50 of coins with you by carrying 10 $5 coins. now, if each of those coins weighed one pound, sure I agree. But on average, I’d be much more likely to just carry maybe a couple 20s and a couple 5 coins. And maybe a few dollar coins too.

I don’t dig the idea of making the blind have to fold their currency all weird and trust each time that they get the right change. It’s that kind of arrogance that makes the world a worse place. If we ever do make our currency different, really different, let’s take that opportunity to make it more accessible too.

Kim Siever 16 Sep 05

I don’t even own a wallet. All my important cards (ID, bank card, etc) are carried in the case that came with my Pocket PC. I can’t even remember the last time I carried cash with me to pay for something. Canada has a very comprehensive debit card system that has been in place for at least over ten years. I have been using my bank card for at least that long, and only recently have included my credit card in the occasional purchase. I have a preference for coloured denominations (I especially love all the new designs of the Canadian currency), but I never use the stuff. I don’t know how it is in the States now, but when I lived there 11 years ago, every purchase I made had to be done by cash or cheque.

Oh, and regarding having to carry change around with you in Canada, why not use it? My wife has the same problem. When she goes to pay for something, she just pulls out the smallest bill that covers the charge and then pockets all the change. Then she wonders whys he has 20$ in change in her purse. When I used to carry money around, I always got rid of as much change as I could. Even if I didn’t have exact change.

For example, if I had purchased something that came to 1.93$ and all I had was two dollars and thee cents, I’d give it all instead of just the two dollars. It meant that instead of getting a nickel and two pennies (including the three pennies in my pocket), I would get a dime. I turned six coins into one.

Not a problem now though.

August 16 Sep 05

brian: well, it was an exaggeration… but when we got rid of the 1 and 2 dollar bills here in Canada, the amount of pocket change I have to deal with increased considerably, and it’s not so much a matter of weight as of the fact that it’s just damn uncomfortable in my pocket, especially if there’s other stuff in there with it. (I don’t have the kind of income where I can just leave it at home until it builds up… it’s usually all the money I’ve got, so if I want to use it, it’s got to be on me.)

Andy 16 Sep 05

You see, the thing is, if it was left to us web designers, our notes would feature lots of drop shadows and fade gradients. Until next month… ;-)

James W 16 Sep 05

The Aussie currency does one have big usability flaw - the $2 coin is smaller than the $1. I’ve heard this was done deliberately to help Australian cab drivers rip off visiting Kiwis.

Benjamin 18 Sep 05

Of course it is.

Sif allow the kiwi’s to get away with it

Quentin 20 Sep 05

Have you seen the South-African paper notes of the past 10 years or so? If even an African country can come up with beautiful, sized, colored, graded, hologramed, etc. notes… what could be hampering the US?

Just a thought

Thomas 01 Oct 05

The Australian notes aren’t significantly different sizes. They are all exactly the same width, and the lengths vary by a little under 1 cm (0.4 inches) between successive notes. They fit fine into any cash register designed for our previous banknotes. Also, the textures are all the same (except for the $5 note, which has been released in a few different textures over time).

I doubt that a blind person would be able to identify different notes.

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